Parts of Portugal like the Algarve, the Alentejo, and Lisbon are blessed with some of the mildest winters that Europe has to offer. Outside, that is.
Inside a Portuguese house is another story altogether.
Portuguese houses and apartments are typically poorly insulated and almost never have central heating of any kind. The result: temperatures so cold that you can sometimes see your breath inside and many people wear 2, 3, or even more layers around the house and to bed.
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When I asked others what they do to get through winter, I received some creative and dramatic responses that show just how cold a winter here can really be.
Many confessed to sleeping in sleeping bags during the winter, often underneath a duvet and sometimes on top of one as well, while others recommended using not just one but several hot water bottles. One person even admitted to using a five-litre capacity hot water bottle.
Other lifehacks included preheating the bed with a hairdryer or using an iron to iron your clothes on the bed so you heat up both your clothes and the bed at the same time.
Most common recommendations
The following are some of the most common and most effective ways to keep your house warm. Utilising just one of these solutions mightn’t be enough and, generally speaking, most people should try to combine as many of them as possible in order to get the best results.
The most obvious solution is a heater such as this best-selling oil heater on Amazon.es, although this in itself isn’t always enough to solve the problem.
The heat, particularly from the electric space heaters that most people use, doesn’t tend to stick around and only works when it’s directly pointed at you. Electric oil heaters and gas heaters suffer from the same problem, but some people say they do a slightly better job.
You can also improve your property’s ability to hold heat by making small improvements to your insulation: put draft stoppers at the bottom of the doors and fix any cracks or holes around the windows.
It’s also worth pointing out that heaters will raise your electricity bill, particularly if you’re using it all day, as electricity is very expensive in Portugal. Gas space heaters often work out cheaper, but many people don’t like having large gas bottles around the house.
It’s also worth noting that because space heaters use a lot of electricity, you may find that the electricity cuts out if you use another high-powered appliance like a microwave or a hair dryer at the same time.
Another popular recommendation, and one that mightn’t be immediately obvious is to use a dehumidifier. Again, you can pick one up from Amazon Spain or alternatively at somewhere like Leroy Merlin.
Dehumidifiers remove moisture from the air, which reduces dampness and the risk of the black mold that plagues Portuguese houses, and also makes it easier for the room to heat up, especially when using a heater. Using one near your wardrobe can also remove dampness from your clothes.
Not sure if a dehumidifier will help? You can get a humidity thermometer (or hygrometer) to measure the humidity in your home or simply ask a friend if you can borrow their dehumidifier for a day or two.
A good (or electric) blanket
A good duvet — one capable of keeping you warm in a Portuguese winter — will probably set you back more than €100 at IKEA and, even then, you may still want another big blanket on top. An even better option would be to add an electric blanket. For couples, there are even electric blankets that have two controls so you can heat each side of the bed according to your own desired temperature. Although slightly bulky, you could potentially pack one in your suitcase if you’re visiting Portugal during winter.
Want to make your bed even warmer? Consider putting a warm blanket beneath the sheets or, even better, an electric mattress topper.
Layers, whether on the bed or for your clothes, were another common recommendation with many people recommending wearing three or more pairs of socks, thermals, long-sleeve t-shirts and multiple jumpers, or pyjamas underneath the clothes. Hats, thick socks, fingerless gloves, and thick-soled slippers were also recommended.
Tea, coffee, or soup — warm drinks are great for keeping you warm during winter. You’ll get through a lot of warm liquids, so just make sure you invest in some caffeine-free tea bags otherwise you’ll be bouncing off the walls.
Being mindful of the drop
During a Portuguese winter, the air is often warmer outside than inside particularly between around 11 am and 3 pm. It’s a good idea to open up the windows both to get some of that warm air, but also to prevent humidity in the house.
The only thing you have to watch out for is that sudden drop in temperature that Portugal gets when the afternoon turns into evening.
South-facing rooms are usually the warmest
Unless there’s another building directly in front of you, south-facing rooms are usually the warmest and will require less heating. If you haven’t already bought or rented a place in Portugal, this is definitely something to look out for.
More Permanent Solutions
If you own your own property, you’ll have the freedom to make a few more permanent changes to your property which will help to keep it warmer including adding better insulation or installing heating.
Wood chip stoves
Wood chip or pellet stoves are a very popular heating solution in Portugal. They typically give off more heat than a normal fireplace, the pellets are easier to store than the wood, they get going faster, they’re easier to clean, and your clothes don’t smell as bad from the smoke.
There are lots of different types of permanent heaters available, but underfloor heating is considered to be one of the most effective and wall heat is often recommended as well. Unfortunately both, particularly underfloor heating, are messy and expensive to install, but many say that it’s definitely worth it.
Other Creative Solutions
- Tinder – If you’re single, find somewhere else to keep you warm at night. One person even recommended finding a couple. After all: more meat = more heat.
- Exercise – Press Ups, star jumps, and running on the stop all help you to keep warm and they’ll burn calories too. Alternatively, if you live somewhere hilly like Lisbon, take to the streets for a quick powerwalk up and down one of the many hills.
- Alcohol – If fitness isn’t your thing, try a little vodka, whisky, medronho, or bagaco. And don’t worry if it’s early in the day, just put a little bit in your coffee to get you going.
- Think about things that make you angry – Don’t meditate; fixate! Let that blood boil.
- Pets – Cats and dogs can be good lap warmers during the day and, if you don’t mind them in the bed at night, a source of heat in the evening.
- Buy a brand new apartment – Rather than trying to fix insulation and heating problems in an old building, just buy a brand new apartment or house instead.
If you enjoyed this article, you can look forward to my next article: how to stay cool in Portuguese houses during summer!